New Titanosaur Species Discovered In Tanzania: Has Closer Kinship With South American Dinosaurs Than African

Paleontologists have discovered yet another species of titanosaurian dinosaur, this time in Tanzania. But what they found particularly interesting about the new species was that it had more characteristics similar to titanosaurs discovered in South America than it did to its closer geographical cousins in Africa.

Phys.org reported this week that the fossil remains of a new species of sauropod — a type of massive, long-necked dinosaur — was uncovered in southwestern Tanzania from a bed of Cretaceous Period rocks. This places the giant dinosaur as having existed sometime between 70 and 100 million years ago.

The newly recovered titanosaur, designated Shingopana songwensis by scientists, is a rare find in Africa. This particular find was first discovered in 2002 in the Songwe region (hence songwensis) of the Great Rift Valley. The name Shingopana derives from the Swahili word that translates to “wide neck.” Fossils of titanosaurs are more often found in South America.

In fact, what might have been the largest dinosaur to ever roam the Earth was recently bestowed its taxonomic name, Patagotitan mayorum, earlier this month, according to Gizmodo. Also a Cretaceous Period dinosaur, its fossil was recovered in Argentina four years ago. The gigantic sauropod weighed an estimated 76 tons (comparable to the weight of a space shuttle) and was approximately 112 feet long.

Giant titanosaur fossil on display

Unlike its South American cousin, though, Shingopana songwensis was considerably smaller, measuring at 26 feet in length, or roughly the size of a killer whale, according to LiveScience. Yet, it is more similar to its South American relatives than other species found in Africa.

“There are anatomical features present only in Shingopana and in several South American titanosaurs, but not in other African titanosaurs,” said lead paper author Eric Gorscak (per Phys.org), a paleontologist at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

Shingopana had siblings in South America, whereas other African titanosaurs were only distant cousins.”

Titanosaur fossil foot in museum

Judy Skog, a program director in National Science Foundation’s Division of Earth Sciences, which supported the research, said, “This discovery suggests that the fauna of northern and southern Africa were very different in the Cretaceous Period.”

Skog also noted that during the Cretaceous, southern African dinosaurs were more closely related to those roaming what is now present-day South America.

This seeming strange coincidence in characteristics can be explained in the proximity of the continents at the time. The Cretaceous Period was a time of earth-changing tectonic activity, a time when what was once one great land mass, Pangaea, was dividing itself and becoming the continents we recognize today. The island of Madagascar and the continent of Antarctica separated east and south, respectively, from the African continent, and South America moved northward, separating itself from southern Africa.

The latter separation helps explain the connection between the Tanzanian titanosaur and the South American titanosaurs.

Research of the new species of dinosaur was published this week in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

[Featured Image by Kostyantyn Ivanyshen/Shutterstock]